EXPERT ADVICE: What’s that dark line running down my belly?

Known also as pregnancy line, this dark line develops on your belly during pregnancy and fades after you give birth.     

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When new mum American rapper Cardi B showed off her post-baby form to her fans on Instagram last October, she endeared herself to other mothers around the world by complaining  about the “flaw” on her post-natal belly.

Moaned the Invasion of Privacy hitmaker in her post to her 41 million followers, “Ladies how do you guys get rid of the black line in the middle of your stomach after giving birth?? cause b**** 😒😒😒😒”.   

It’s resonated so much with women that it has drawn nearly 3 million likes, with fellow mothers expressing messages of support and encouragement to Cardi, who gave birth to daughter Kulture in July.

Wrote one mum, “My baby is almost 6 months and mine just went away over time! It made me nervous it’d never go away!” 

Incidentally, the “black line in the middle of your stomach” refers to the linea nigra, or the pregnancy line, which appears during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Apart from being a pregnancy indicator, the linea nigra (Latin for “black line”) has no known purpose, says Dr Tan Hiok Hee, senior consultant dermatologist, Thomson Specialist Skin Centre. This line doesn’t give rise to any symptoms, nor does it affect the health of the mother and her baby.  

The linea nigra…usually appears in the first trimester of pregnancy and becomes more obvious around and after the fifth month of pregnancy.”

Dr Tan offers more information about this black line…   

Help! What’s the dark line running vertically down my belly?

It’s the linea nigra. It usually appears in the first trimester of pregnancy and becomes more obvious around and after the fifth month of pregnancy. It tends to between 5mm and 12mm wide and can get darker as pregnancy progresses.

Why does the linea nigra occur?

The specific cause is unknown, although the higher levels of oestrogen and other placental hormones during pregnancy can trigger melanin production. Your skin is hence more vulnerable to pigmentation, so, for example, you may notice freckles, moles or brownish patches on your face and throughout your body.

Why does the linea nigra appear as a line instead of a patch?

Even before pregnancy, there is a white vertical line on the middle of our abdomen, albeit visible in various degrees. This is known as the linea alba. It is the linea alba that becomes pigmented during pregnancy and forms the linea nigra.

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Can we speed up the fading or reduce its visibility?

I advise mothers to let it fade naturally. One way to ensure it does not persist for too long is to avoid excessive sun exposure of the area. It’s also been suggested that folic acid, found in green leafy vegetables, oranges and wholemeal bread, may reduce the formation of the linea nigra.

So, it’s not a stretch mark?

No, the linea nigra is a single pigmented vertical line that runs along the middle of the abdomen. Stretch marks, on the other hand, can occur all around the abdomen. Stretch marks are tiny tears in the supporting layers of the skin tissues as the abdomen expands. When they are fresh, they tend to look slightly pinkish before becoming white. Also, stretch marks appear only in the second trimester of pregnancy.

“Consult a dermatologist if the pattern starts to appear irregular, become exceedingly dark in a localised area, or itch severely.” 

Do all mothers-to-be develop linea nigra?

About 90 per cent of pregnant women will develop the linea nigra.

Can they avoid its occurrence?

There is no way to avoid its occurrence.

Will it last through the pregnancy?

Yes, but it usually fades between 3 and 6 months after delivery.

When should we consult a dermatologist? 

If the pigmentation pattern deviates from the norm. For example, it becomes exceedingly dark in only a small localised area, or has an irregular shape or pattern, or if it starts to itch severely.

Finally, does it occur even if a woman is not pregnant?

In women who are not pregnant, the linea nigra can come about due to hormonal changes or imbalance. It can also indicate conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome or uncommon disorders such as Addison’s disease, which affects the adrenal glands. It can also be present among children who are between 11 and 15 years old, and some older men with prostate hypertrophy or cancer.

Photos: iStock and Instagram/IamCardiB

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